Monday, September 14, 2009

A hot cure for the cold

September is back to school season. While this makes many people think of school supplies and a new fall wardrobe, this time of year makes me think of sniffley-nosed freshmen and all the germs they are sharing. I am the furthest thing from a germaphobe and I almost never get sick, but I still like to fill my diet with immunity boosting ingredients just in case.

It is common knowledge that vitamin C plays an important role in maintaining immune function, but did you also know that carotenoids, specifically beta-carotene, is just as important. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant, and it is also broken down in our digestive system into vitamin A. Though most well known for its role in vision, vitamin A helps us stay healthy in a number of ways. It boosts white blood cell function, increases antibody response, and most importantly, maintains healthy epithelial and mucosal tissues that serve as the bodies first line of defense against would-be intruders.

The red pepper is your best friend during cold season, and that's because one cup packs in a whole day's intake of vitamin A, and a whopping three times the amount of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

Factoid: Cooking destroys a lot of vitamin C. After 10-20 minutes of cooking, as little as 1/3 of the vitamin C found in the raw fruit may be left. So when cooking with vitamin C rich foods, look for ones, like red peppers, with 3 times more than you need!

A diet full of carotenoids and vitamin C can reduce your risk of cancer, and will certainly reduce your risk of colds. Carotenoids are typically found in orangey fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, red and orange peppers, squash, tomatoes and mangoes, but it is also found in some unexpected places like spinach and collard greens. Try to make these foods a part of your daily life to keep you healthy.

Maybe you've done your best and already come down with the sniffles, or like me, ragweed season is still dragging on and your sinuses are more congested than the Gardiner Expressway during rush hour. That's why I've added a little bit of heat to today's cold-busting recipe. Capsaicin is the chemical in peppers responsible for their heat. Ever noticed how eating spicy foods cause your nose to run? That's because capsaicin stimulates the mucous membranes in your sinuses, which relieves congestion faster than any medicine on the market. In fact there are now a number of capsaicin based decongestant sprays now available. To top it all off, capsaicin can also reduce inflammation, and is a thermogenic, meaning it will cause your body to burn off more calories. All good reasons to spring for a little extra spice.

And as if those weren't good enough reasons, what is better than soup during cold and flu season?

Immunity Soup

1 large sweet potato
1 red bell pepper
1 medium hot pepper (I used the "Crimson Hot" variety)
1/2 an onion
1 clove of garlic
2-3 cups vegetable broth
Update: Add 1/4 cup of red lentils to give this soup a protein boost!

Chop all the veggies and combine all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until soft (about a half hour). Puree and serve topped with fresh ground pepper.

P.S. All the produce in this recipe is currently in season in Ontario, so find a roadside stand or farmers market and go local!

Monday, September 7, 2009

I Double-Dog-Dare You!

If you are reading my blog I will assume you fit into one of the following categories:
a) Already a vegan or vegetarian
b) An omnivore considering veganism
c) A friend of mine who is just creeping on me cause I linked to my blog on facebook

If you are either b) or c), then I have a dare for you! If you are a) then feel free to pass this dare on to friends of yours!

The dare: the 21-day Vegan Kickstart! C'mon. It's only 3 weeks, I'm sure you can hack it! Especially with all the resources that PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) is providing on their website. When talking to omnivores and vegetarians about the possibility of going vegan, at some point they will inevitably say that they don't think they could do it ("I can't live without cheese!" is a frequent complaint) or they would like to do it but it seems like such a difficult task and they don't know where to begin. To this I say that no, you will not perish from cheese withdrawals, and it's really only difficult for the first little while until you start to think about food differently and amass a collection of tasty and satisfying vegan dishes. And besides, it's only 3 weeks. You can last 21 days! If you don't like it or find it too difficult, at the end you can choose to gorge yourself on a wheel of brie.

Another favourite comment that I get when telling people about my diet is "No meat, dairy or eggs? What do you eat?", to which I often respond that most vegans probably eat a wider variety of foods than the average omnivore because we make use of a lot of different ingredients to maintain balanced nutrition and maximize meal-time excitement. People often suggest that I must take lots of multi-vitamins and supplements to stay healthy. I don't actually take any supplements because I get everything I need from my diet.

In order to be a successful vegan you need to re-imagine "the meal". The average North American diet hinges on the familiar formula of meat + starch + vegetables. For example, a steak with potatoes and corn. The food pyramid toted by the USDA, and similar ones in other countries, are said to have been heavily influenced by meat and dairy lobbyist groups, and not based on scientific facts. This is obvious when you consider that you can get everything you need from plant based sources, but the food guide tell us we need 2-3 servings of milk, and 2-3 servings of meat every day. This seems especially strange in light of the fact that research indicates that vegans and vegetarians are healthier than omnivores. This is where the New Four Food Groups comes in. It is based on scientific research and designed to meet all your nutritional needs. Follow this plan and you're on your way to a healthier, and possibly thinner, vegan you!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Only the pure of heart can make good soup" - Beethoven

It has been a mighty long time since my last post, I shall try not to make a habit of it. I spent the end of August in my home and native land, the Ottawa Valley. While I was there the weather took a turn for the worse, as it does every time I visit. It seems hurricane Bill (seriously? Bill? Could they have come up with a more benign name?) brought some cold weather and rain inland, and it downright felt like fall.

Although I am a die-hard summer fan, there is one thing that I look forward to with the coming chill in the air - soup season!! Living in Canada one has to find a silver lining in our seemingly endless winters. Some people play hockey, others ski, but not me. I make soup.

Though the weather has once again warmed, it's too late, I've caught the soup bug. Lucky for me, this early start to soup season has coincided with end of summer produce harvest, the makings of very delicious soup to be sure! The last time I was at the farmer's market I picked up some celery, then foolishly picked some up at the grocery store on Monday. With all this extra celery I just had to make a celery soup.

"Canada is the essence of not being. Not English, not American, it is the mathematic of not being. And a subtle flavour - we're more like celery as a flavour. " - Mike Myers

Celery's flavour may be subtle, but it is also a lovely flavour, that, with a little encouragement, can add great depth to a soup. I simply adore celery. My uncle despises it and I think he's crazy. It belongs to the family Umbelliferae (or Apiaceae, depending on your preference), a family that also includes carrots, and savory spices such as caraway, fennel, dill, parsley and cilantro. Not only is celery delicious, but very healthy. With only 10 calories per 100 grams, it is a guilt free source of vitamin C, calcium, fiber, and iron. It is a food that has been with us for ages. In the eighth century BC, Homer wrote in the second book of The Iliad: "Their horses stood each by his own chariot, champing lotus and wild celery." Lucky horses.

Celery Soup
Makes 1 serving - double, triple or quadruple if you're cooking for more than yourself!

3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp celery seed
3 mini potatoes, or 1 smallish potato, chopped
1 1/2 cups veggie stock

Saute celery and onion until softened. Add garlic and celery seed and saute 1 minute more. Add potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until potatoes are softened. Puree with a hand blender (or transfer carefully into a normal blender). Top with some freshly ground pepper, and a celery leaf if you want a little extra somethin-somethin.

Factoid: Celery seed should be avoided by pregnant women as it stimulates the uterus and is rumored promote miscarriage!!

I ate this with a toasted mock tuna salad sandwich (which I made using only 2 spoonfuls of veganaise, I totally agree with Lindy Loo that 1/4 cup is way too much). They paired very well and made for a satisfying and healthy dinner.